As someone who never played the original Bravely Default, I was a bit worried going into Bravely Second: End Layer. Would I be totally lost in the story? Would the gameplay build in complex ways upon the original? I had no idea what to expect. Fortunately, my fears were quickly put to rest, and Bravely Second: End Layer soon revealed itself as an absolute joy of a JRPG, one that meshed classical gameplay with modern sensibilities to make something beautiful, fun, and exciting – though certainly not perfect.
An all new adventure
I was especially concerned with the story, considering both the world and playable characters return from the original game. Fortunately, the main character was right there with me. Following a recap of the Bravely Default‘s events on the title screen, you are thrust into the shoes of Yew Geneolgia, who is caught defending Pope Agnes of the Crystal Orthodoxy against a mysterious new threat: the Kaiser.
Soon you join forces with some other characters of the original game (like Tiz and Edea) and a new character (called Magnolia), and then you are off to take down the Kaiser and rescue Agnes. The story has many returning faces and references to Bravely Default, but as a new player I was never lost. This is a standalone adventure through and through.
The characters are awesome: I loved all of the main ones, as they all had well defined personalities and quirks that didn’t feel forced. The supporting characters usually very enjoyable as well. Cutscenes focusing on character relationships are hit or miss, but they are worth it; I would not have been so engaged in the game had my fellow adventurers not been so appealing.
The story quickly establishes both stakes and twists, and the opening several hours are a poster child of brilliant JRPG pacing and storytelling. The plot starts to fall into a rut, though; the story spins its wheels for a good two chapters, as progress is made at a snail’s pace and the constant distractions don’t have enough depth to them. It is a great story overall, but for a while it only really captures the attention intermittently.
Welcome to Luxendarc
Gameplay is what you would expect from a classic-style JRPG: you’ll explore a large overworld from a top-down perspective. Along the way you will encounter dungeons and towns. Dungeons offer some light puzzle solving and exploration, while towns offer inns and shops. Random encounters will occasionally send you into a battle as you explore.
The combat is classic turn-based JRPG goodness. You’ll switch between your four characters attacking and the enemy attacking. You have your standard physical attack, a variety of items for healing/more magic power/reviving allies/curing status/etc., and special abilities. Brought over from Bravely Default is the genius Brave/Default system, which lets you store up turns while defending and then unleash multiple turns at once. Combined with impressive enemy variety, it makes for a deep and compelling combat system.
Special abilities are intertwined with various jobs. By beating bosses and completing sidequests, you can gain new jobs; these you equip one at a time to level up your abilities. These abilities range from various types of magic use to swordsmanship to countless other possibilities. Of course, you also level up each individual character. You will also buy and find weapons and armor, some of which is more effective with certain Jobs equipped. You’ll also buy new spells, which you can only use if the corresponding Job is a high enough level. Combined with all the items you will need to restock, there is a lot to spend money on.
Possibly my favorite part of the game is how it approaches challenge. Playing the game normally is a challenging experience, but it will let you adjust throughout the game how you want to play. You can switch to easier or more challenging difficulties by pushing a few buttons (though doing so of course takes away some personal satisfaction, and you won’t get certain achievements.) You can turn off random encounters, you can make them much more frequent, and traditionalists can keep it the same all the way though. It provides opportunities for all playstyles; I liked to explore dungeons with no enemies, then go back and fight a ton right before the boss.
The game is very challenging nonetheless. Even after I switched to “casual” partway through, I got my butt handed to me by several bosses. While the amount of grinding is not unreasonable, it will be a necessity at times – especially if you kind of suck at the genre, as I do. Even with that said, though, a few bosses were actually frustrating. Not every hard boss was annoying, but there were some with quite unenjoyable designs. Considering bosses can take thirty minutes or more (especially playing on hard), those rare frustrating bosses made an impact. Nonetheless, most of the bosses are great fun, and many have awesome twists to keep you on your toes.
A lot is done to make grinding and battling a breeze; you can save your favorite set-ups of jobs and abilities, and even save sets of attacks for your characters to perform automatically in battle. One brilliant addition to Bravely Second in particular is that if you beat a set of enemies on the first turn, you can fight another set right after for more experience, money, and items. This means that while fighting regular regular enemies is usually pretty easy, you can make it more challenging in return for a worthwhile reward. It’s brilliant.
One feature is Bravely Second, which lets you stop time using SP. You can then choose acharacter to perform a move in addition to the initial round of moves. You gain SP by putting the 3DS into sleep mode for a while, or you can buy new SP with real-world money. It can be helpful, but it is not very necessary, especially early in the game; so it doesn’t feel like the game is forcing you into buying SP.
Dungeons are reasonably well designed. Coming off the monotony of Alphadia‘s repetitious dungeon design, it was refreshing to play a game that made the simple act of wandering around to find chests and get to the next objective fun. This is done through maps that encourage discovery and exploration (even if it is very easy to find everything), and include light puzzle solving. These puzzles help a lot, even if they don’t offer much challenge on their own.
There are also sidequests, which offer entire self-contained stories and characters, dungeons, and bosses. The stories are engaging at times and an utter bore at others, but sidequests are always worth doing for the Jobs they give out, and because the dungeons and bosses always have as much attention paid to them as the main game. There are other additional tasks you can do outside the main game like rebuilding Magnolia’s home on the moon or making toy chompers. These did not enthrall me personally, but many will find these to be a great addition.
All-in-all, the gameplay is terrific. The battle system is layered, it lets players choose their own playstyles yet gives them reasons to challenge themselves, and the exploration is a joy. The bosses can occasionally be frustrating, and as a long JRPG, it can feel a bit repetitive at times – but it is so worth it. Bravely Second: End Layer shows how turn-based combat should be done.
A beautiful world
The visuals are fantastic. The character models take on a chibi-style that is extremely charming, while the environments take on a painterly aesthetic to great effect. It is all polished, cohesive, and attractive. Some of the environments are just spectacular. The towns (both new ones like Al-Khampis and returning ones like Eternia) are varied, as are most dungeon settings, and this helps turn what could easily become a repetitious game into an experience that constantly promises something new and beautiful around the next corner.
The music is utterly exceptional. The overworld theme is adventurous and triumphant, the battle and boss themes are intense, the many town themes are perfectly atmospheric. While there were a few tracks that I didn’t love or even necessarily like, most blew me away, and everything fits perfectly. Plus, while much of the music repeats throughout the game (dungeon themes, boss themes, etc.), new music is introduced enough to keep things from feeling stale.
Bravely Second: End Layer is everything I want out of a JRPG. It has got a (mostly) great story with endearing characters. It is beautiful, and the soundtrack is marvelous. It takes the traditional turn based battle system and does interesting things with it, all while including tons of options to mess around with. It is possible that returning players may not find the same magic as the first game because the gameplay is identical and much of this is the same world, and there are certainly a few issues. Either way though, no matter if you played the original, if you want a beautiful, exciting, and well designed modern take on classic JRPGs, you will feel right at home with Bravely Second: End Layer.